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2 new species of lizards discovered in Western Ghats

Researchers said the two new species of lizards had been wrongly identified under the genus Calotes (similar to the common garden lizards) for more than 150 years but they are actually part of a distinct group endemic to the Western Ghats.

mumbai Updated: Sep 28, 2018 15:31 IST
new lizard species,western ghats,BNHS
Spiny-headed forest lizard(Sourced)

In yet another important discovery which proves that Western Ghats is indeed a biodiversity hotspot, scientists have discovered two new species of lizards belonging to two new genera.

A team from Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) and Centre for Ecological Sciences, IISc, Bangalore, identified Montane forest lizard and Spiny-headed forest lizard during a revision of taxonomy of the lesser known agamid (lizard group having scaly bodies, well-developed legs, and a moderately long tail) of peninsular India. Their paper was published last week in Zootaxa — a peer-reviewed scientific mega journal for animal taxonomists

Researchers said the two reptiles had been wrongly identified under the genus Calotes (similar to the common garden lizards) for more than 150 years. Genus is a terms used for classifying species.

“Based on large-scale geographical sampling, molecular and morphological studies, we found the two lizards are actually part of a distinct group endemic to the Ghats,” said Saunak Pal, scientist, BNHS.

The scientists named the species Monilesaurus, which means lizards with a necklace, as the new genus has a distinct fold of skin across the neck resembling a necklace.

“This study signifies the lack of understanding of relationship among Indian reptiles and shows we still need a systematic research on Indian agamids,” said V Deepak, co-author of the paper.

While studies have documented biodiversity of highly divergent species of frogs, fish, spiders in the Western Ghats, environmentalists have raised a red flag over a growing number of threats to the area.

“Unregulated mining, unprotected private forest areas, unprecedented rainfall, unregulated dam construction, deforestation and growing number of deliberate forest fires over the past five years are all responsible for destruction of the Western Ghats,” said Madhav Gadgil, ecologist and founder of the Centre for Ecological Sciences at Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, who headed the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel formed by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) in 2010.

He added, “The forest department of respective states, especially Maharashtra, has further falsified documents to suit their requirements to allow development to creep into these areas.”

Experts said the recent findings highlight the importance of this mountain range as an evolutionary hot spot for diversification.

“Lizards in India are not being studied seriously. The current findings belong to a group (agamids), which is hardly studied. This is one of the first efforts. The highlight is that these are common species not known to science before. These are endemic lineages with a very different evolutionary trajectory,” said Varad Giri, curator, herpetology, National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS), Bengaluru and former curator, Bombay Natural History Society. “This proves the uniqueness of this landscape and needs to be protected much better.”

A 2014 notification by the union environment ministry made 56,825 sq km of the Western Ghats in six states including Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu, eco-sensitive zone (ESZ). Declaring the region as eco-sensitive prohibits activities like mining and setting up industries that pollute the environment. MoEFCC will be issuing a second draft notification this year stressing on the area as ESZ due to lack of consensus among states and the Centre.

First Published: Sep 28, 2018 15:31 IST